The Secrets to Shut-Eye

It feels like you’ve been counting farm animals since 9 P.M. For some reason, hours later, you’re still awake. You’re not alone — this problem is nationwide — but if you don’t get 8-10 hours of sleep a night, it could impact your health and well-being. If you’ve struggled with falling asleep in the past, Andrea Gustafson, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in insomnia, has some tips and tricks. 

  1. Make sure you practice good “sleep hygiene”. This involves maintaining a consistent nighttime routine: starting the process at the same time, getting to and out of bed around the same time on a daily basis, keeping the same practices. Sleep aids like essential oils can be a great addition; lavender essential oils are known for relaxing nerves, lowering blood pressure, and creating a relaxing environment.
  2. You want activities in your bedtime routine to be things that mainly occur around bedtime so it is a signal to your brain that it is time to sleep. If you read before you get into bed, pick a book that is going to be your “bedtime book” and only read it at bedtime. If you like to play a game before you get settled in, make sure you stick to one.
  3. It is recommended that this routine start about 30 minutes before you want to be in bed, to give yourself time to wind down and get ready. It can include a number of things, from self-acupressure (applying gentle pressure to areas like the one between your eyebrows) to the 4-7-8 method (a breathing technique explained here).  Obviously include other things you need to do: washing your face, changing clothes, getting a drink, etc. — whatever you do to get yourself to bed.
  4. Avoid doing things in your bed other than sleeping (and sex). If you read before bed, read on the couch or in a chair before getting into bed. This applies if you are playing games or doing other activities as well. This teaches your brain to associate your bed with sleep rather than watching TV, reading, studying, etc.
  5. There is some debate about using electronics right up until bedtime. Some say don’t use them at all, others say if you use them use them for things only associated with bedtime like playing a specific game etc. Studies show that using blue screens and smartphones right before bed can disturb your sleep quality. It’s better to switch off electronic devices an hour or two before you’re planning to go to bed.
  6. Once you are in bed, if you are having trouble falling asleep for 30 to 45 minutes, get up. Getting a drink or reading for a few more minutes can act as a reset switch. Some research has shown that if you aren’t falling asleep and you continue to lay there, it can make it even more difficult to sleep.

If none of these tricks work, there are always other things to try. We wrote about ASMR a while back, which some people use as an unconventional sleep aid, and there’s no substitute for a nice backrub or massage if you can get it. Sleep preparation is different things to different people, and the sooner you find your method, the quicker you can hit the hay.

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